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Diary: Serenhedd James

03 August 2018


Cross words

LATE one evening, a friend messaged me in a lather: “Biblical priestly garment, five letters. First letter ‘e’, third letter ‘p’, last letter ‘d’.” An easy one for those of a theological bent: “Ephod”. All credit to whoever set that Daily Telegraph crossword, however — it contained some splendid ecclesiastical teasers: “Notice archdeacon on time for run-up to Christmas”: Ad-Ven-T; “Pope’s quality of verse read in High School initially”: H-o’lines-S; “Maybe shares how cleric is dressed for service”: In-vestment.

The setter had clearly chosen to ignore the recent amendment of Canon 36, which permitted clergy to dispense with traditional vestments when leading divine service; although anyone assuming that amending Canon 36 would lead to clergy wearing less, rather than more, might have been in for a surprise. Maniples on both arms? Be my guest.

Dressing down

IT IS one thing for a crossword-setter to be heedless of the unhappy tweaking of the Canons of the Church of England, and quite another for a prelate to ignore them as they stand. Whatever possessed the Bishop of Dover to advise the clergy of the diocese of Canterbury to tell their penitents that the plod might be called if they made a full and frank confession — in other words, a good one — is a matter between his Lordship and his own confessor.

The diocesan secretary was more forthright: “Safeguarding children and vulnerable adults must be our highest priority.” Of course, no one should detract from the important and serious business of the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults as the Church goes about her work; but — if readers will forgive a momentary lapse into maudlin piety — surely the Church’s highest priority must be to win souls for Jesus Christ, and to fit them for heaven by the ministration of his sacraments at the hands of his priests.

Booked out

YOU can wait all year to be invited to a glamorous book launch — and then two turn up at once. On a balmy evening earlier in the summer, Fr Gerard Skinner launched his scholarly work on Fr Ignatius Spencer — convert célèbre, and kinsman of the Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex — at the London Oratory. I turned up impolitely early to have a chat with the author, and to snaffle a couple of glasses of cold white wine before the throngs descended.

I have known Fr Gerard for a while, as, given George Spencer’s formation at the Venerable English College in the 1830s, research interests of ours intertwine. An accomplished musician and the most generous of hosts, he is also the parish priest of St Francis of Assisi, Notting Hill. His is the papist parish in which the burned-out wreckage of the Grenfell Tower still stands: he has had a harrowing time of it recently, and deserves our prayers.

The minutes ticked away all too quickly. I had only just greeted a certain former Bishop of Richborough when it was time to squirrel away another fistful of canapés, dash out on to the Brompton Road, and jump into a cab to Marylebone High Street, where, at Daunt’s, Weidenfeld & Nicolson were releasing Lady Antonia Fraser’s latest. The King and the Catholics is an account of the struggle for Catholic Emancipation in 1829: its subtitle is The fight for rights (Books, 29 June).

Everyone was there, as you might expect. After a natter with Maltravers Pursuivant Extraordinary — fresh from that afternoon’s garden party at Buckingham Palace — I exchanged brief pleasantries with A. N. Wilson before having an interesting chat with Jonathan Aitken. If Mr Aitken’s ordination to serve as a prison chaplain isn’t transfiguration in action, then I don’t know what is.

Marriage à la mode

ONE of the pithier observations about the recent royal wedding came from Anthony Lane, in The New Yorker. He noted that, on 19 May, “an American divorcée married a man whose brother will only become king because of his paternal grandmother’s father, who only became king because his brother wanted to marry an American divorcée.”

“History goes around in circles,” Lane concluded, and, indeed, it often does. In this instance, it went around particularly smoothly with the help of the Church of England’s present muddle-headedness about the sacrament of holy matrimony, and the active co-operation of the presiding minister: our very own Justin Portal, by divine providence Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of all England, and Metropolitan.

It will surely now be very difficult for His Grace to toe a line that denies non-traditional marriage to some, yet allows it to others — even when those others are princes of the blood and grandsons of the Supreme Governor — and he may well find himself in something of tight spot when the matter returns to the General Synod, as it inevitably will.

Other latitudes are well established already, however. I was glad to receive from a correspondent the following overheard titbit, which is an especial gem. “They had to marry in the Church of England, you know. Why? Oh, she’s Russian Orthodox, and he’s a Liberal Democrat.”

Dr Serenhedd James is director of the Cowley Project, and Hon. Research Fellow of St Stephen’s House, Oxford.

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